THE BOOK: Memory Is The Seamstress
PUBLISHED IN: 2017
THE AUTHOR: Patricia Allison, the pen name of the two co-authors, Dean Robertson and Alison Daniels
THE EDITOR: Alison Daniels and Dean Robertson
THE PUBLISHER: Kindle Direct Publishing.
Eighty-six-year-old Samantha Leaf has kept a terrible secret for decades – one that now threatens to destroy a well-known publishing empire.
In the early part of the twentieth century, Charles Leaf came out of the mid-west to New York, carrying only a dream. He opened a bookstore and founded a dynasty. He longed for a line of sons to carry on what he built. But his only heir, Charles Junior, is a disappointment, and the future of the business is in jeopardy. That all changes when Samantha Tyler, an exotic and ambitious young woman of twenty-two, comes to work for Leaf & Sons, enchanting both men.
Memory is the Seamstress begins in 2017. Samantha is eighty-six, and the family has convened to deal with an impending lawsuit. Something from Samantha’s past has come back to haunt them. As the mystery unfolds, we learn about the players in this high-class game of deception, ambition, love, marriage, and madness. At the center of the family, and the decades-long secret, is Samantha and, around her, the men in her life: Charles Senior, her father-in-law, mentor, and friend, who made her his heir; Charles, the husband whom she could never fully love until it was too late; Charlie, her son, devoted to his mother but determined to make his own mark; Charlie’s son, Gordon, the outsider looking to take control of the company; and Gordon’s son, Bennett, on the verge of young manhood, and falling in love for the first time. And, on that list of men is Samantha’s other secret – her love for the artist Isaac Raffael, who shares Samantha’s guilt. The stories of all these characters is woven into the tapestry of this complex family saga.
THE BACK STORY: This novel has a pretty interesting back story. One morning in March 2017, Alison sent Dean an email in which she related a disturbing dream from the night before. She had dreamed about her father and her fiancé, both now dead, and she wrote, “I do not often dream of the dead.” Dean responded with expressions of sympathy; she was familiar with the experience of not being able to escape from a disturbing dream. She then wrote, “I want you to read that last line out loud and listen to it. ‘I do not often dream of the dead’ would make a great opening sentence for a novel.” Alison responded by saying she was considering it as the first line in her memoir, to be followed by, “But I wonder if they ever dream of me.” Dean sat and stared at the two lines together, then responded with what would become, virtually unchanged, the opening paragraph of the novel.
That was on March 12 2017. On the 13th of June, the two women uploaded the book to Kindle Direct Publishing. Three months, soup to nuts.
Dean had never written fiction and had been convinced for the fifty years of her adult life that writing fiction was one of things she couldn’t do.
Alison, who wrote fiction for many years, had stopped writing altogether over twenty-five years ago and had long since resigned herself to never writing fiction again.
Writing Memory was a transformative experience for both of them.
WHY THIS TITLE? At some point, when they started discussing a title, Alison said that when she wrote fiction in the past, she always liked to use a quotation from a well-known author, so they started looking in all the likely places. A friend of Dean’s had just sent her a long passage from Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando:
“Memory is the seamstress, and a capricious one at that. Memory runs her needle in and out, up and down, hither and thither. We know not what comes next, or what follows after. Thus, the most ordinary movement in the world, such as sitting down at a table and pulling the inkstand towards one, may agitate a thousand odd, disconnected fragments, now bright, now dim, hanging and bobbing and dipping and flaunting, like the under-linen of a family of fourteen on a line in a gale of wind.”
It came down to that or something from “Hamlet.”
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? It is a well-written character-driven novel, so the first assumption of both authors was that no one would like it except maybe a few English teachers and a couple of friends or relatives. They have changed their minds. Someone would want to read it because it’s one of those sprawling family sagas that always turns into a great made-for-tv movie; there’s a mystery to be solved, and the book opens right up with a teaser; and, it does have a cast of characters who are either funny or tragic or annoying or infuriating, but not even one of them is boring or ordinary. Two reader responses come to mind. One, a recent houseguest, picked up the novel just to have a look at it, started reading, curled up in a big armchair, with breaks only for meals or the powder room, and read it through to the end. Her comment, fairly self-evident, was “I couldn’t put it down.” Another reported that she went to bed at night thinking about the characters.
REVIEW COMMENTS: “If we ever stop tinkering with it and uploading to Amazon, it’s possible people might have a chance to write reviews.” Meanwhile, there are the two word-of-mouth ones above and these two from the Amazon site,
“EUREKA! Someone finally wrote a novel for people who understand the difference between producing fiction and WRITING fiction. Thank you Patricia Allison for restoring my faith that fiction can be more than formulaic best sellers.”
“I don’t usually read fiction but this was of interest to me. The character Samantha was interesting as were her family relations. Good job Patricia.”
AUTHOR PROFILE: Patricia Allison is the pen name of two friends—Dean Robertson and Alison Daniels–co-authors of Memory Is The Seamstress. They grew up in different parts of the country, in very different circumstances. They have entirely different writing histories. They brought two distinct sets of skills to the writing of this first novel, both of which were essential for its completion. One author has been writing for fifty years, the other for barely four. One author has published previously, the other has not. One author plots meticulously, the other plunges in. Both hold graduate degrees, neither of which is in writing. One is a country girl, the other an urban dweller. Neither is a spring chicken. Both are entirely ruled by their animals, many of whom inspired the names of the novel’s characters. Patricia Allison divides her time between Virginia and New York.
Alison Daniels, who now lives in Norfolk, Virginia, commutes once a month to New York, where she owns a co-op in Queens and has a job in Manhattan. She is a native New Yorker and has worked for the same company for over twenty years.
Dean Robertson has lived for four years in the Ghent neighborhood of Norfolk, Virginia, and grew up on a hundred acres of north Georgia woods in a log house her parents built. She left home at seventeen. She has lived and taught in Kentucky, Michigan, California, and Virginia.
Alison and Dean met at a book club in Norfolk in 2012, each thinking the other was both interesting and eccentric – and both were right.
Writing as Patricia Allison, they are experimenting with a variety of approaches to collaborative writing.
Since Memory, each of them has written one novel alone, both published through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, both under their pen name of Patricia Allison. Alison’s novel, Fortune’s End, is a reconsideration and revision of a twenty-year-old manuscript that was waiting for her, literally, in a box in the back of a closet. Dean’s first effort on her own is called Jessie: The Adventures and Insights of a Nineteenth Century Woman, and is her complete fabrication of the early life of a woman she spent a year researching, with little success.
Currently they are working on two more solo works. Dean’s is a sequel, Jessie: More Adventures and Insights; Alison’s is In Sycamore Hall, a psychological murder mystery set in a co-op in Manhattan, where the normal disagreements among tenants flare into violence.
Once those are published—or uploaded, as it’s called—they will sit down together and plan the next book, which they intend to write together.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: Dean writes: This is a tough one for me because I had no goals or larger ideas, or any ideas at all, about Memory. It was an accidental novel, and it’s a miracle it ever got finished. Alison and I had at least several truly terrible arguments every week, sometimes several in a day. In a way, the writing of the novel was, for me–understood only after the fact–about two things: writing and friendship. In retrospect, I would say that Memory is a novel about how we relate to each other within families and, ultimately, what “family” means. It is about integrity, both personal and professional, about forgiveness and about love. Those are all such vague terms, really. At the end of the day, this novel was all about the characters. I fell in love with several of them and was heart-broken to let them go.
Alison writes: For me the writing of this novel was a revelation. Writing tends to be a solitary pursuit and previously I had always written in a vacuum without benefit of feedback or editing. As a writer partner Dean pushed me not to be “lazy” in my choices and I think I pushed her to focus on letting characters speak for themselves. As a result I believe our characters come alive on the page. Trying to share a vision for character and story was a challenge, and Dean and I are both strong-minded women, and the clashes over ideas, writing styles and structure could be brutal. It is truly a test of friendship to learn to work collaboratively without constantly stepping on each other’s toes. We survived it and the end result is a better book, I think, than either one of us would have written alone about this particular lively group of characters, who span the generations and have their own unique voices. It’s not often that a single novel can combine both literary aspirations and a lively and emotional story.
Memory Is The Seamstress A Novel by Patricia Allison
Chapter One Two Lunches
Manhattan May 2017
The woman at the carefully laid table in the small, overpriced Manhattan eatery, looked directly at her companion and said, just loud enough to be heard, “I do not often dream of the dead.” She was in her mid-eighties, tall and very thin, cheekbones showing the outlines of a face whose beauty even the ravages of age and a lifetime of taking her looks for granted couldn’t hide. Her Chanel suit, years out of date, was frayed at the collar, which reflected not a lack of funds but her refusal to be stylish.
“I do not often dream of the dead,” the old woman repeated, talking to herself now. “But I wonder whether they ever dream of me.
“I am, after all, a woman who has blood on her hands.”
“Samantha.” The well-dressed man across from her tried to keep the anxiety out of his voice, “We agreed you weren’t going to talk like that, you were going to stop using that kind of language.”
Gordon leaned forward with what he hoped was his most convincing smile and went on. “Whatever happened, it was a long time ago. This whole situation seems like a fuss over very little, but I won’t know that for sure until I get enough details from you to put it to bed. If you can just help me out here, Samantha, I can sort this out quickly and I, for one, have no intention of ever mentioning any of it again. However, as of this minute, I am operating in the dark.”
He looked away to give her a chance to digest what he’d said and spotted his father, Charlie, approaching the table, just a little late, as usual. Charlie cleared his throat and nodded in Gordon’s direction but didn’t speak. It was typical of Charlie to stay disengaged as long as possible. As the only son of Samantha and Charles Leaf Junior, Charlie—as he’d insisted on being called–had learned early in life that his mother, for whom he felt great love laced with a sensible amount of caution, was not only famously beautiful but a woman whose presence alone could draw you into situations you’d rather avoid. Today Charlie was determined just to observe.
He looked at the two people at the table and for just a second felt like turning right around and heading home. “Here they are: The same players, the same roles, the same script. There’s Gordon leaning in just a little too close, too eager to get his point across, to be the one who saves the day. And Mother–she does so wish to be somewhere else.”
“Charlie, my dear, so very grateful you could find the time to join us for lunch.” Samantha held out her hand, ignoring Gordon’s look of growing desperation and annoyance at the conversation’s veering off track.
Taking only a little offense at the slightly scolding tone, Charlie—torn between irritation and affection–took the outstretched hand, noticed again the enlarged veins and translucent skin of old age, bowed a little more deeply than necessary, and kissed his mother’s fingertips. “Samantha, you know I wouldn’t have missed it.
Have you and Gordon ordered yet?”
“We thought we’d wait for you and Bennett so we could all take a look at the new menu together. There’s plenty of time, but why don’t you go ahead and order a round of drinks? I’ll have my usual. You do remember?”
“Well, let’s see now . . .”
“Charlie, stop that teasing. You’re not old enough to start forgetting things yet!”
And the familiar dance was performed again between the aging, elegant, demanding matriarch of the family, and her stubbornly independent son, two peas in a pod, worthy opponents who enjoyed the combat and were much more alike and cared much more deeply than either of them would admit.
Charlie had agreed to attend this lunch gathering because it seemed to involve the family’s business interests and because he was, frankly, curious about the details of whatever lurked in his mother’s past. Gordon had insisted that the family all meet together. “Poor Gordon,” Charlie mused. “It’s a rare opportunity for him to be in charge of a situation, and he’s playing it for all it’s worth.”
As he pulled out his chair, Charlie could see his grandson, Bennett, coming through the door. Bennett, at seventeen, created the same kind of stir entering a room that Samantha still did, even at eighty-six. His was an almost flawless beauty, and he moved with a dancer’s grace. Just home from his boarding school for the short break between exams that always held the promise of the long summer vacation ahead, Bennett was considering making a couple of trips to look at colleges. Uncertain of his own interests, he knew he always had the option of going to work at the Leaf Foundation so he tended to worry about very little. Bennett had the character so typical of young men educated in any one of the East Coast prep schools—that combination of charming boyishness, a sense of entitlement, and an unexpected maturity and competence when they were needed.
Unlike his grandfather, Bennett headed straight for his great-grandmother. With his biggest grin, and ignoring Gordon’s disapproving look, he grabbed her in a bear hug. “Samantha, you look more beautiful every time I see you, and if you weren’t my ‘great,’ I’d propose on the spot.”
Samantha, normally unflappable, was a fool for this beautiful boy, and she actually blushed. “Bennett, one of these days you are going to go too far and I’ll have to report you—to whomever one reports such audacity. Go and sit with your grandfather and order yourself something to tide you over until lunch.”
After the interruptions by his father, and then by his son, Gordon took a deep breath before trying to talk to Samantha again. He wished fervently to be anywhere but in this chair, trying to figure out what to do with this woman, who he was sure was going dotty, and—to make matters worse—he was certain his father would exit unobtrusively at some point, leaving Gordon with a bill he could scarcely afford.
Striving to keep the tension out of his voice, he turned to his grandmother. “Samantha, it really is important that you answer a few questions before we try to explain the situation to everyone else. Can you give your attention to this a while longer?”
For just a split second, Samantha looked at Gordon as if she had no idea who he was, then said in a deceptively soft voice, “Of course, dear. Now what was it you needed to know?”
And it was possible, in moments like this, to understand why Samantha had enemies, why this lovely woman, adored by the men in her family who were gathered around her, would be roundly disliked by those who – like her grandson Gordon – were the recipients of her casual condescension. Samantha never raised her voice, although it had taken her a few years to curb what had been a white-hot temper in her twenties. She never said anything directly unkind. She didn’t have to. She was the master of the unkindest cut of all. She could, by the turn of her head, or the slightest edge in her voice, dismiss you entirely. And in the Leaf family, to be dismissed by Samantha Leaf – who wasn’t really a Leaf at all, but in fact an interloper – to be invisible to her was to almost cease to exist. Gordon, uncertain in her presence for as long as he could remember, had to muster every bit of his courage to try and get his grandmother to face facts. “First of all you can’t go around talking about having blood on your hands, for heaven’s sake! Especially with this lawsuit pending.” “Oh, the lawsuit,” Samantha looked bored. “There’s nothing to be done for it. And it really doesn’t matter what I say. There are people who have always resented me… perhaps with good reason.” “Reasons that legally are no more than suspicions, and you must be careful not to reinforce those suspicions with careless talk,” Gordon shook his head and all but rolled his eyes. “I’m your attorney as well as your grandson and I’ve been reviewing what little I know. You are going to have to provide me with more information, Samantha. Even the best attorney can’t operate without the facts.” “Dad, do you have to bother Samantha with all this?” Bennett interrupted. “I thought you were going to settle it.” Bennett’s handsome face, with its sideways look of arrogance, softened today by genuine affection for Samantha, often irritated his father. In Gordon’s opinion, his son frequently carried the day based solely on his looks and that facile charm. He had it entirely too easy. “Oh sure,” Gordon replied sarcastically. “I’ll make it all go away, like magic. Bennett, I specifically wanted you here to talk some sense into her. I need full cooperation, full disclosure, if we are going to beat this thing. I absolutely cannot go into a negotiation, let alone court, and get blindsided by something your great-grandmother conveniently forgot to tell me.” Of the three generations of men now seated at the table, Gordon was the only one who looked out of place. Charlie, just over sixty, already slightly stooped, his thinning hair turned gray, dressed in last year’s tweed jacket over a wrinkled Brooks Brothers shirt, was casually confident as he nodded to a few of the waiters who clearly knew him. He was still his mother’s son, a comfortable insider, although – by choice – not involved in the Leaf businesses. At the other end of the table Gordon’s young son, Bennett, whose startling physical beauty really did make any other credentials unnecessary, glanced around with a
complete sense of belonging exactly where he was. And of all the men, he was the one who most closely resembled his great-grandmother. He had Samantha’s cheekbones and her untamable hair, the same deep brown that Samantha’s had been before it finally turned white when she was in her seventies. Gordon had invited Bennett because he was a favorite of Samantha’s – and therefore was the most likely candidate to convince her to listen. Bennett, who really was fond of Samantha, laid a hand over hers. “You’re going to cooperate with Dad, aren’t you, Samantha?” “Now, Bennett, my dear, you don’t need to bother yourself with this. Your father already knows my position. I deny nothing. I admit nothing. Let the chips fall where they may.” Gordon leaned back in his chair, exasperated. “That attitude could very well land you in more trouble than I care to imagine–even at your age! Not to mention bankrupting you.”
Samantha stared at him, and finally smiled. “Bankrupting you, don’t you mean, Gordon? You’ve already seen to it that I have no part anymore in the company.”
“Because it had become too much for you,” Gordon argued. “But it’s still your legacy. You don’t want to see it destroyed due to your own stubbornness!”
The old woman closed her eyes. “My legacy,” she murmured. “I might have hoped for a different one.”
Samantha was tired. She looked all of her eighty-six years and more, as she sat, a woman of another time, not so tall nor so beautiful as she once had been, but still a presence, a force in the room. An onlooker would have instinctively felt that this frail old woman was the one in charge, even though she sat, head slightly bowed, not speaking, surrounded by three generations of the men in her family.
The Cloisters 1967
“I wish Isaac were here,” Samantha thought, and the familiar mix of pain and loss twisted her heart as always, no matter how many years passed. He would know what to do. He would have been able to talk to those people and put things right. Isaac had a gift for conciliation, making friends of enemies with little effort, while she… How had Isaac phrased it? “You bristle like a porcupine whenever anyone disagrees with you, Sammy. Always ready to take offense and do battle.” And she had laughed and admitted it and stopped being angry at whichever inconsequential person had made some tactless remark. Yes, Isaac’s influence had softened her – for a while, in another time and place. It was hard to believe that had been more than sixty years ago. The speed with which her life had rushed by sometimes left her breathless. When she was young, she had thought she
knew it all; she had believed the golden moments would last forever. When she was twenty and twenty-five and even thirty, she had not understood that everything changes.
She remembered the last time she and Isaac had been truly happy together: a day in early spring, the time of year in New York when a slight hint of winter lingers, but at mid-day, the sun can warm you for an hour or two. It had been, deceptively, a season of hope.
After a chilly morning, the day had turned into a kaleidoscope of light clouds and sun, and much warmer than expected. Isaac called early to declare it a day for a picnic, no excuses accepted. He would pick her up at the Algonquin at precisely 11:00. He would have a taxi and they would ride out to the Cloisters where they could walk and have some privacy. In fact, he knew just the spot. Isaac really did always know just what to do.
So Samantha Leaf, thirty-five years old and the wife of Charles Leaf Junior, sole heir to the Leaf portfolio and chairman of the Leaf Foundation–the entity set up to manage not only the publishing company but the funds her father-in-law had designated to support aspiring authors; Samantha Leaf, mother of Charles the Third, called Charlie, had risen languidly from the sofa and headed upstairs to wash her hair, soak in the deep old tub full of hot, perfumed water, put on an afternoon dress—she thought the navy linen that she was told matched her eyes–and prepare to meet a man she loved for lunch in the country.
That day was like so many other days over the last twelve years when Samantha and Isaac had spent an hour or two browsing the shelves of a bookstore, or sharing a box of popcorn at the neighborhood theater or, like today, heading somewhere out of the city to picnic, or eat at a roadside diner, or just to walk, sometimes silent, sometimes talking desultorily about their lives or arguing some point in a book they’d both just read.
They had made it up to the Cloisters, where they had walked, eaten the basket of cold herbed chicken, fresh green salad, and small red potatoes that Isaac had packed, and had stretched out in the pale sun, side-by-side, drifting in one of the long silences with which they had become comfortable over the years. Samantha, always the more restless of the two, spoke quietly. “Isaac, tell me the truth. Did you find one single thing amusing about that ridiculous movie we saw last week?”
Isaac sat up and looked down at his hands before he responded, “Sammy, tell me the truth. Are you seriously asking me a question about a movie that was so god-awful I can’t even remember the name of it? Really? On a day like today, when we could be discussing the Botticelli exhibit at the Met or last month’s execrable performance of ‘Aida.’
“To tell you the truth,” he continued with that insulting ‘art critic’ tone in his voice, “I thought it was just about the funniest thing I’ve seen in years!” And Isaac looked up at her from beneath those ridiculously long eyelashes and exploded into near-uncontrollable gales of laughter at his own humor. He would just get a grip on himself,
when something would set him off again.
Samantha looked at him with the affection of more than a decade’s friendship. She had never known a man who, on his best days, enjoyed his own humor as much as Isaac.
“Samantha? Where’ve you gone? You look like you’re miles away.” It was Bennett, this time really worried. She smiled slightly to reassure him.
“Just letting my mind wander a bit, my dear… one of the privileges of old age.”
“And who’s Isaac?” Bennett asked.
Samantha started. Had she spoken his name aloud? To reassure her great grandson, she shook her head slightly and said, “He’s just someone I knew a long time ago.” She thought, but did not say, “Someone I almost killed.”
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CONTACT THE AUTHOR: Dean Robertson can be reached at email@example.com. Alison Daniels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. They both enjoy corresponding with fellow writers and with fellow readers.
Dean’s blog and website are http://pdrobertson.com. Please subscribe.
Three recent blogs are about the writing of Memory Is the Seamstress. http://pdrobertson.com/two-smart-women-who-werent-smart-enough-not-to-try-writing-a-novel-together/
And check out a few of the reviews in the category “Book Reviews.” Dean usually can make time to write long, personal blogs about writers and their books.